WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden put the full weight of his presidency behind voting rights action last week, heading to Capitol Hill in an effort to push Democrats to change Senate rules to pass legislation.
Vice President Kamala Harris — whom Biden tapped to take the lead on passing voting rights legislation in June — wasn’t there.
Both White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Harris aides had no clear answer when asked why the vice president didn’t join Biden in the meeting.
It was yet another example of the difficulty Harris has faced throughout her first year in office, as she’s struggled to define herself and her role.
Harris has grappled with an expansive portfolio of difficult assignments, fielded questions about her relationship with the president and faced what allies say is unprecedented scrutiny for a vice president — without, some worry, adequate support from the White House.
And she’s navigated all that within the constraints of a global pandemic and a duty to act as the tie-breaking vote in an evenly-divided Senate that have restricted her ability to travel beyond Washington.
“It’s tough for any vice president to shine — even in the best of times. And these aren’t the best of times,” said Roy Neel, who served as chief of staff for former Vice President Al Gore. “You not only serve at the pleasure of the president, for any public activities, but there’s a limit to how much you can do to take the lead role on the major issue of the day, whatever that is, and to go out and look like you’re killing it.”
Indeed, Harris’ aides say privately that the vice president is careful not to get ahead of the president, never wanting to take credit for the administration’s successes. She will also often say that while she offers her frank opinions to the president privately, her public role is to ensure he is successful.
But that’s left some Harris supporters, who warmed to her as an outspoken progressive voice in the Senate on issues ranging from police reform to voting rights, frustrated at what they see as her absence on key issues. During a recent interview with media personality Charlamagne Tha God, when Harris dropped her typically pleasant demeanor and sharply defended Biden, Charlamagne took note.
“That Kamala Harris? That’s the one I like,” he said. “That’s the one I’d like to see out here more often in these streets.”